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The cable chest press and dumbbell press are two popular and effective ways to train the chest. These exercises both target the pectoralis major, while recruiting the deltoids and triceps as synergists, or "helping" muscles. Because the environment created by dumbbells and cables is unstable, the body is forced to recruit additional muscle fibers for stabilization, making these more difficult and intense exercises than performing chest presses on a machine. Before you run out to begin your next chest workout, there are pros and cons associated with using cables and dumbbells that you should consider.
The Cable Advantage
The most obvious advantage to training with cables over free weights is that most exercises can be safely performed without a spotter. In terms of muscle development, cables create steady resistance throughout the entire range of motion, from the beginning of a movement through the end. Cables are also easier to control than free weights which may make them less likely to cause injury and less stressful on joints and soft tissues.
The Free Weight Benefit
The main benefit of free weights is that they force the body to recruit additional muscle fibers for stabilization. Without cables for guidance, you have to control the weights through the entire range of motion. This can be significantly harder, especially when working with heavier weights. Another advantage that dumbbells often have is better versatility. Cable machines operate with stacks of plates which can be adjusted at set increments, usually 10 to 15 pounds. Unless the gym has add-on weights in smaller increments, you are forced to conform to the options that the cable machine offers. However, most gyms have dumbbells that increase in 2.5- to 5-pound increments, which provides more training options.
The Best Choice
The cable press and dumbbell press are both effective exercises to include in your chest training routines. They each offer unique benefits, and there is no reason why you should be confined to one or the other. Alternating between cables and dumbbells will help to keep your muscles guessing and avoid plateaus. Make sure you have a spotter whenever performing dumbbell presses though; if you can't find one during your workout, it might be a good idea to stick with cables for that session.
Be careful when executing all movements and make sure you are using proper form. Regardless of whether you're using cables or dumbbells, the weight should be under your control at all times. If you need to drop weights or slam plates, you are using too much resistance.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R Baechle, Ed.D. & Roger W. Earle
- The Best Chest Exercises You've Never Heard Of: Build Your Best Chest Now; Nic Nilsson